Archive for July, 2011

Is Liz Jones’ private GP competent to vaccinate?

July 31, 2011 15 comments

Liz Jones’ article in the Sunday Mail about her being ‘let down’ by the NHS because she couldn’t get her pre-Somalia (WTF?) vaccinations done at the drop of a hat is so startling in its lack of self-awareness that it’s very hard to believe it’s not self-parody. 

On the other hand, it is Liz Jones.

It being Liz Jones, I wouldn’t normally bother with comment.  She’s really not worth it.  But this bit of her article is (unbeknownst to Ms Jones) interesting:

In order to obtain a visa, I am required to be inoculated against hepatitis A and B, yellow fever, typhoid, diphtheria, tetanus, polio and so on. On Thursday, I called my GP, a private GP, in London’s Sloane Street.

‘Yes, Miss Jones, come in any time.’ And so I did. But my doctor could only give me the ‘live’ vaccine, yellow fever; the other jabs would have to be done the following day (my emphasis).

It’s interesting because, if true (and if my interpretation is correct), it looks like Ms Jones’ private GP may be in need of some training.

There may well be a lay perception that live vaccines like Yellow Fever cannot be given on the same day as other ‘jabs’, but it is not true. 

The Department of Health’s ‘Green Book’ on ‘Immunisation against infectious disease’ (Chapter 35 on Yellow Fever)  is quite clear:

Yellow fever vaccine can be given at the same time as other inactivated and live vaccines. The vaccines should be given at separate sites, preferably in a different limb. If given in the same limb, they should be given at least 2.5cm apart (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2003).

Even more importantly, the way in which antibodies are stimulated by live vaccines means that all live vaccines (including cholera and polio) SHOULD be given on the same day so as not to render them less effective. As this GP training website makes clear:

Live vaccines (Polio and Yellow Fever), must be given either together or three weeks apart.

If we assume that her GP, based as s/he is in Sloane Street, routinely provides vaccinations for (rich) overseas travellers, then there must be at least some suspicion that s/he has been advising many people poorly on when they can or can’t have their jabs, to the extent that s/he may be endangering her/his patients’ health.

I wish Ms Jones no physical harm, however repulsive her views. My advice to her is that she might be better enrolling with an NHS GP who, with the appropriate clinical and training networks provided by the NHS, may be more likely to be clinically up to date than a Sloane Street doctor.

Categories: General Politics

A note on Cuba, the Left and Private Capital

During the recent Communist Party Congress, the ‘cuentapropismo’ initiative was adopted after being presented to the country by the Cuban Trade Unions. It will consist of the legalisation of small enterprises, pertinent at a time when many state jobs are being cut, and the private sector increasingly relied upon.

Parallels are already being made to this initiative and the New Economics Policy (NEP) in Russia circa 1921.

Back then there was an economic crisis of epic proportions, war communism became the bane of the peasantry life, which culminated in mass refusals to plant more food than could be eaten owing to the confiscations by the state. Millions of Russians in the countryside had died from famine, which led to an uprising by the peasants, joined by sailors and other workers against war communism policies, who were eventually defeated by the Red Army in what came to be known as the Kronstadt Rebellion.

The NEP was a policy taken by Lenin to allow private enterprise limited freedom in order to raise productivity; in his words it was taking one step backwards in order to take two steps forwards later. It was not a long-term policy, but its use would take as long as it needed. It has been speculated that had Lenin not died a few years after its inception, and had Stalin not committed to central planning and the dismantling of NEP policies, laws for private capital might have been relaxed way past their eventual demise in 1928.

It was of ethical concern to all those involved with the Communist party – particularly the Left Opposition both within and out of the Bolsheviks – but the concession was that trade unions would protect workers in both the public and private sectors.

However, with the state legislating for the creation of a class enemy within the working class itself – the Nepman (rich business people) or the kulacs (better off peasantry) – and the fact that in 1928 Russian production had begun reaching levels not seen since 1914, the bargaining chip of the trade union within an economy which seems to be working, seems hardly a concession towards the achievement of full socialism.

If Lenin’s policy was towards a capitalism mandated by the state, would he really have bent down to union pressure in the face of workers’ rights versus a productive economy? In other words, since Lenin sacrificed socialism – the project he had worked all his life to pursue – for the gain of production, come what may – would he have sacrificed the conditions of a worker in the private sector, against trade union best wishes, for that same goal of increased industrial and agricultural production?

Unfortunately he died before any substantial answer to this question could be made, but its possibility cannot be ignored.

The difference between Russia and Cuba is that while Lenin freed up capital, not once did he give the impression that he’d stopped believing in the socialist model. However on the other hand, even Fidel Castro has been explicit on this: “the Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore”.

This is where the comparison falls short. Lenin believed that a spell of capitalism would increase productivity – and it did – and then they could re-join the road to socialism. Then he died. Raul Castro has mentioned nothing about the cuentapropismo being a short term measure, in fact judging by his brother’s words, it looks quite the opposite. If history is anything to go by, for socialism to return to Cuba, Raul Castro needs to die. But then, perhaps if history is anything to go by, a new economic policy wouldn’t be such a bad thing as far as production is concerned.

Reflections on the death of Gatluak Gai

The following is a guest post by Tim Flatman

Sudan Tribune is reporting that Gatluak Gai’s deputy, Marko Chuol Ruei, has admitted to killing him. This corroborates the SPLA’s account that shortly after signing a deal with the SPLA to reintegrate his forces back into the army he had left and fought against, Gai had second thoughts, got into an argument with his own forces who were split on the issue of whether or not to trust the SPLA’s deal, and was killed in the course of the argument.

I have no special knowledge of this situation, so I cannot comment on the specifics of what happened. Rather I want to draw out potential consequences for other “rebel” groups and the possibilities for their peaceful reintegration into the SPLA. [I use inverted commas as“rebel” still has positive connotations in South Sudan – suggesting soldiers are fighting for an ideal/against Khartoum, and it is a label many feel these groups do not deserve.]

Firstly, Marko Chuol Ruei’s admission will not put the matter to rest. Especially while Peter Gatdet is still at large, his mouthpiece Bol Gatkuoth will be amongst those who continue to circulate the unfortunately plausible conspiracy theory that the SPLA killed Gai and had no intention of honouring their agreement with him. I should stress that especially after Ruei’s admission, this rumour certainly falls into the realms of conspiracy theory. It never made good political sense for the SPLA to have offed Gai so soon after he signed an agreement. Nonetheless, military figures do not always behave in accordance with good political sense, and the theory is believable enough that those who are already inclined to distrust the SPLA will believe it. The obvious point being made by several analysts is that Gai’s death will make other groups operating against the SPLA less likely to come to a peaceful arrangement, something that will have been painfully obvious to the leadership of the SPLM/SPLA.

Secondly, the deal was always flawed. By offering a double promotionto Gai, the deal itself incentivised others currently within the SPLA to take arms against it in the hope of securing a promotion through negotiated reintegration. Here the death of Gai may have an unintended positive effect. It shows how risky this strategy is, and deters others from following it. In less complicated times, the SPLM might have issued announcements describing Gai as a martyr and celebrating his achievements during the war, portraying them as eclipsing later indiscretions. Such a strategy might appease those who believed he had been out-manoeuvred into choosing opposition as a last resort in orderto guarantee survival in a hostile environment. (Many of Riek Machar’s supporters, and even his detractors, would make the same claim of his actions at Nasir in 1991, neatly drawing a distinction between his lack of judgement in allowing himself to get into a position where he no longer felt safe accepting operational commands from John Garang, and Lam Akol’s malevolent intentions in treating Dinka and Nuer lives as collateral in a doomed attempt to further his own personal ambitions.) However, the SPLM’s spin machine is at full stretch and may be unable to give this full attention at the same time as dealingwith the day-to-day issues that accompany sovereignty and top priorities like Abyei and resource-sharing negotiations.

Thirdly, the Gatluak Gai saga highlights the range of motivations behind armed opposition groups and the complexity of their relationships with key GoSS figures. The international community must bear some responsibility for much of the “tribal” violence it condemns for its acceptance of the “Dinka domination” narrative. It is in the clear interests of certain figures within the SPLM to push this narrative, and pose as unifiers. Surprisingly few figures within the UN, the academic community and NGOs seem to have the awareness to realise that when they repeat this narrative they are taking sides inleadership struggles within the SPLM. It is not unusual to hear UNMIS staff describe one former SPLA commander as an academic rather than a military figure, (intended as a favourable comparison to Salva Kiir) –an extraordinarily naive statement. It might seem extreme to say so, but blood is on their hands. In South Sudan, politics and armed opposition can often be complementary rather than contradictory. Having the connections to bring an armed opposition group to the table highlights your indispensability. When armed opposition groups issue manifestos declaring they are taking up arms because of “Dinkadomination”, and you have strong pull with Nuer and Equatorians, they reinforce your credentials as the only person capable of holding South Sudan together. Such figures may often be right in their insistence on constitutional changes and further devolution (though “devolution”often means devolving power to all-powerful governors rather than tostate parliaments, and the word itself should not be fetishised). But swallowing their narrative whole, especially when the SPLM has done so much to expand the movement from its largely Dinka origins and when Dinka do not hold a majority in the former GoSS cabinet, among Salva Kiirs advisors or in the SPLM political bureau, is tantamount to taking sides in an ongoing leadership campaign that relies in part on the existence of armed opposition groups which terrorise local populations.

Fourthly, the attitude of the international community is hypocritical at best. The Government of South Sudan is told one day that the SPLAis too large and that a smaller more disciplined force would be better at respecting human rights. The next day it is told that it should increase the size of the SPLA by reintegrating “rebel” groups back into it and possibly by encouraging large numbers of SPLA from the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile areas into its ranks. It is told it should offer battle-scarred veterans alternatives to going to the bush, but it is also criticised when it appoints under-qualified military figures to civilian posts ahead of more qualified civilians, especially former exiles with university degrees. The international community does not acknowledge that its demands are contradictory – it has a solution to every problem but no understanding of how these problems inter-relate.

So how should the SPLM deal with the six or so supposed “rebel” groups that still exist? Some may be beyond reintegration. It is hard to see how Peter Gatdet could be reintegrated. His group has been the most blatant in co-operating and accepting support from the Sudan Armed Forces. In the attack on Turalei approximately one month ago, eyewitness sources reported that Gatdet’s forces were wearing SAF uniforms and brandishing new AKMs. Nonetheless, stranger things have happened. In contrast to Gatdet, most Southern Sudanese would be delighted if George Athor would come back to the fold. It is however difficult to see how Kiir could offer him more than he has previouslyoffered. But contrary to the arrogant beliefs of the international community, the strongest calls for reintegration do not come from outside of South Sudan but from inside it. The SPLM know that South Sudanese expect them to give former SPLA renegades every reasonable opportunity to reintegrate peacefully, because they understand how you can find yourself on the wrong side of internal South Sudanese conflicts through circumstances. But if these groups consistently turndown reasonable offers, they expect GoSS to deal with them appropriately. What can the international community do? It can start by stopping: stopping making contradictory demands and stopping reinforcing narratives which disguise personal ambition and self-interested violence in a cloak of progressive anti-tribalism.

In defence of Cultural Marxism

Anders Breivik, in his fascist vanity tome “manifesto”, poured scorn on the influence of “cultural marxism” – leading some, like me old mucker Left Outside to ask: “What the hell actually is a cultural marxist by the way?”

His tongue is probably in his cheek (Left Outside, that is) when asking that, but let me just add a note to that particular debate.

The usual, post-Frankfurt crowd, identify cultural Marxism as the use of Marxian theory to analyse cultural relations. It’s as easy to view cultural Marxism as using Marxism as an analogy for the relations at play between individuals and groups.

Productive relations are played out between owners and non-owners of the means of production, and it is the opinion of thinkers such as Georg Lukács, Antonio Gramsci, Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, and T.W. Adorno to Fredric Jameson and Terry Eagleton that this same terminology be applicable to cultural relations at play; making useful the notion of cultural hegemony.

Of course when Breivik references “cultural Marxism”, he doesn’t mean the embedding of equality within the fabric of society – which he would be opposed to anyhow – rather, he means political correctness. But rather than being a construct of 20th century Marxist thinkers, political correctness, or the societal disincentive to prejudice – works towards the public display of decency and/or sensitivity. Also, moreover, an acceptability to do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

As fascists and neo-fascists fail to understand, the notion of political correctness is not an unnatural tenet, against the natural tenet of prejudice – indeed there is nothing so unnatural as prejudice. Instead, it is an attempt to undermine discrimination against the most marginalised in society, women, homosexuals, religious and ethnic minorities – something which may have been acceptable in a bygone age (which the extreme Right aim to fetishise), but is by no means an organic state of play to cultivate through the active dismissal of that which has been demonised as “cultural Marxism”.

To conclude, Elizabeth Kantor in her 2006 book Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature suggested that for academia to allow great literary works – such as A Handmaid’s Tale – to disappear, on the grounds that they may be perceived as sexist, racist, or homophobic, “will destroy Western civilization and lead to barbarism.”

Yet, Atwood’s classic is still being taught at colleges and universities as a useful exegesis of a dystopian nightmare, and barbarism of late seems to be the preserve of racist fanatics with no more an understanding of the enlightenment as I have of the quantum harmonic oscillator.

The High Speed Rail research failure

July 28, 2011 3 comments

I’m still preparing TCF’s final submission to the High Speed Rail consultation process, which closes on Friday. It will be published here.  In advance of that full submission, though, here is the main point we’ll be making.

There is a valid concern, based on detailed research into other schemes around the world, that the introduction of high speed rail to the UK will actually have negative consequences for some areas.   These concerns are summed up in a 2009 paper ‘High Speed Rail: Lessons for Policy Makers from Experiences Abroad’, in which the authors study the actual post-construction impact of schemes in Japan, France, Spain and Italy:

It is consistently reported that HSR does not generate any new activities nor does it attract new firms and investment, but rather it helps to consolidate and promote on-going processes as well as to facilitate intra-organizational journeys for those firms and institutions for whom mobility is essential.

In fact, for regions and cities whose economic conditions compare unfavorably with those of their neighbors, a connection to the HST line may even result in economic activities being drained away and an overall negative impact (Givoni, 2006; Van den Berg and Pol 1998; Thompson 1995). Medium size cities may well be the ones to suffer most from the economic attraction of the more dynamic, bigger cities. Indeed, Haynes (1997) points out that growth is sometimes at the expense of other centers of concentration. Several reports describe the centralization of activities in big nodes, especially in the services sector.

It is perhaps worth pointing out that only those cities with a significant weight of services in their economic structure appear to benefit from HSTs. In other words agricultural and industrial activities are indifferent to HST stops. Evidence of this lack of economic impact is the little attention given to a HST railway stations by firms in their location decisions, even those of service companies.

Independent of that paper, I set out my own concerns 18 months ago about the intra-regional disparities that might occur:

There is a real risk, I contend, that the building of a high speed rail link through a country which is already both quite densely populated along the length of the line, and heavily integrated, will actually have major negative unintended consequences; intra-regional inequalities will grow as those towns on the line ‘suck in’ prosperity, and the majority of the people living more than a few minutes travel from the few stations will end up not just worse off in relative terms, but perhaps also in absolute. 

 Of course no government – red or blue – is coming to me for expert advice  (just yet), but my concerns were echoed, albeit faintly, in a report to the previous government specifically around the high speed rail programme, which reviewed the available literature. The report recommended:

[T]he issue of wider economic benefits  remains one of the hardest to tackle; such benefits could be significant, but vary significantly from case to case, so an in depth study of each case by experts is required.

Yet 18 months on from that report, and at a point where the new government gives every indication that it is going to sign off the £32bn project as soon as it can, no such assessment of the wider impacts have ever been undertaken.  What passes for socio-economic impact assessment has startlingly restricted pararmeters:

In undertaking this assessment account has been taken of the socio-economic impact of transport schemes including other high speed rail schemes. It is commonly accepted that the main impact on land use, of new stations or improved services, is located within a 10-15 minutes walking distance of the station, which equates to a catchment area of 1km (para. 1.3.1.).

And in perhaps the most startling admission that basic research has not been conducted, the authors of this study note:

The next steps in developing the socio-economic appraisal may be to:

  • Investigate the impact of additional rail services on the ‘classic’ network on development and employment in the areas around stations such as Milton Keynes, Coventry, Rugby and Northampton.
  • Investigate the wider regional impacts of high speed rail, for example, how the Black Country region would be affected by the introduction of High Speed Rail to Birmingham (para 1.3.5.)

Frankly, it seems astonishing that the question of how the new line will impact upon areas more than 1km from stations (i.e. the rest of the country) may (or may not) be addressed AFTER the decision has been taken to proceed, especially given the available evidence that impacts may in fact be negative.  It does raise the suspicion that the whole project is more about politics than actual economic benefit. This would be in keeping with what the authors of the internartional study say about the Spanish scheme:

 [A]ny discussions as to the social profitability of HST investments have been largely absent from the political debate because – besides the political rationale – the AVE is considered a symbol of modernity, and enjoys user support – perhaps because passengers pay low prices thanks to huge public subsidies. 

None of this should be taken as outright opposition to HSR.  I’m no Luddite, and I believe in public works; as one part of an overall transport strategy which links not just the big cities but connects local areas together in a manner conducive to the localisation of employment and supply chains, I can see great advantages.  Indeed, the main consultation document says as much:

Enhanced rail links through a national high speed rail network, particularly if combined with other improvements,such as the forthcoming electrification programme and the proposed Northern Hub scheme, stand to play an important role in tackling this [lack of connectivity between cities in the Midlands and the North (para 2.18).

 But there is a very big ‘if’ in there, and at the moment I see no commitment to anything other than a costly scheme which may end in disaster for smaller towns across vaste swathes of England. 

The project WILL be signed off by the government – it will not, realistically, now do a u-turn.  The main task now is to persuade Labour in opposition, and hopefully in government as the first construction begins on the line, of the dangers that are there for any sensible researcher to see, and to start planning now for how to make sure the line ends up as a boost for Britain, not a long-term bringer of inequality.



Categories: General Politics

Balls 1 – 0 Osborne

Boris Johnson has echoed plans to scrap the 50p tax on people earning £150,000 and above to give London a chance to compete with foreign cities.

He said the same in late 2010, noting the tax ‘can’t go on forever’ if London is to remain competitive as a world financial centre.

But the idea is being floated again now growth figures are on the go-slow, and the suspicion is that Boris’ plea is not a noble one to get London booming again (?), but because the rich, who he is a representative of, want to remain so.

If this is too suspicious for you, then fine. But what is the thinking behind reducing this tax, over say freezing VAT, in order to drive up consumer spending?

Research group Acxiom claimed in 2009 that rich consumers – earning over £45,000 a year and who tended to spend more than £90 a week at Tesco, Waitrose or Sainsbury’s, now shifting towards low-cost brands at Asda, Morrisons, Aldi and Netto – were the ones cutting back; perhaps this informs latest thinking?

But I doubt many would say that the possibility of the kind of QE Vince Cable alluded to recently is informed by a lack of higher earners spending money.

Instead poorer consumers, the ones most affected by inflation and the 20% VAT, need more money in their pockets.

Such was the message of Ed Balls, when in June called on Osborne to freeze VAT.

If Osborne had listened to Balls, perhaps growth this quarter would not have looked much different, but that of next quarter may have – that is unless there are too many leaves on the train track, or the wrong type of sunny days.

Categories: General Politics Tags: , , ,

Is this the end of the BNP?

Nick Griffin has been re-elected as the party leader of the British National Party by the skin of his teeth – receiving 1,157 votes compared to his rival, fellow MEP Andrew Brons who secured 1,148.

The nine votes between the two demonstrates deep tensions within the party, which have been going on for some time.

In 2008 Matthew Single – the man who later leaked documents containing the names and addresses of BNP members – along with other dissident members of the far right party Steve Blake, Sadie Graham and Kenny Smith, attempted to challenge the leadership of Nick Griffin. The campaign fell flat, and Griffin acted, but tension was brewing in the ranks of the party, compounded by mounting financial difficulties, low support in elections – despite achieving two MEPs – and the infamous marmite incident.

Since then, the anti-Griffin contingent of the BNP have needed someone who they felt was a little more stable, had a decent support base, and was not going to go “soft” – as, for some strange reason, many on the extreme right of the far right party, seem to think Griffin is, opposed to the supposed moderate, suits instead of jackbooted Griffinites.

Andrew Brons has for some time been the candidate of choice for the anti-Griffinites. The British Resistance blog – formerly The Green Arrow – held Brons as the “unity candidate”. In a supportive blog post, they noted:

Nick Griffin must be replaced. He has totally betrayed the trust of all the party’s activists and thrown away the results of their years of hard work. Why he did this, I really do not know but have my suspicions. I could list and document a dozen pages of the lies he has told. Those still supporting him, remind me of the black people in America who despite all the evidence continued to scream out that O.J. Simpson was innocent. They are in total denial as I once was.

While the divide in the party became better known, the spat between Griffin and Brons went public. Earlier this year some BNP members in Brussels went to listen to Brons speak while uninvited, Nick Griffin sat next to his colleague to offer his concerns about Brons’ conduct, and the friends he kept – including the now suspended member Eddy Butler (video below h/t Political Scrapbook).

I asked Eddy Butler ( ) – using an anonymous email address:

why didn’t you ask Solidarity [the odd trade union funded and paid for by the BNP to represent fascists in court, led by that odd chap Pat Harrington] to represent you when you’d been expelled? If you dislike them so much, their subsequent refusal to represent you could’ve acted as political capital for you in your quest against Griffin.

[To which he replied]

I did consider it for my dosmissal [sic] as a member of staff as the action against me was taken by by Adam Walker and Pat Harrington and they breached several basic codes of practice but I coluldn’t be bothered as it isn’t in my nature. I joked with them that I could have and they squirmed when I said it.

Last night, as the result came in, Nick Griffin’s Facebook page has attracted supporters wishing him well, and requesting he bring unity to the party, examples of which include:

Janek On Hiatus Łestelski: Congratulations Nick, now the real hard work starts. WE CAN DO THIS!

Thomas Matthews: Let’s take the fight 2 our pathetic weak government now and put a stop 2 all the in-fighting!!

Uther Aurelius: I hope those that voiced their support for Andrew Brons won’t be shunned from the party and this can be seen as a fresh start with all the senior members pulling together in the same direction!

Ian Dempsey: Now get your arse in gear and reunite the party Nick………..Please!

Mary White: Excellent, well done Nick, hope all those nasty plotters who conspired the smear booklet will be expelled, named and shamed ! God Bless xx

But other forums have shown just how much Griffin is loathed within the party, and how many in the BNP are getting so tired that they either want to leave, or form a new party, with Brons at the head.

In a blog post last night on the Brons-supporting BNP Ideas website, comments included:

Caractacus says: Stuff it Andrew, I cannot now work or serve under NG, so lets get going with a new party? We have most of the brains and activists on our side, the old bnp is now finished under NG and Britain NEEDS a real Nationalist Party. You had half the votes of the remaining 2 year plys members, add to those ALL those NG as expelled, driven out or those who left in dispair and with YOU as the unifier WE will be the voice of Nationalism in Britian before Christmas.

French Mike says: I agree with Caractacus. Strike now while the iron is hot. Before too long disenchanted Nationalists will never return to the fold. This is the moment of opportunity otherwise all is lost.

Jan says: Well done Mr Brons.9 votes, pity not everyone received their ballot papers, I’m certain if they had the outcome would have been you as leader.

James says: I am deeply saddened to hear that Andrew Brons has lost the leadership vote. This result means not only a loss for Andrew but also a loss for the Party and the future hopes of our children.This is not a Victory for The Party, this is not a victory for our people, nor is it a victory for reason, justice or Patriotism; this is a Victory only for Nick griffin.This result will only add to the long list of our best people who have already left the Party.

dave says: Andrew you must form a new party the BNP are going nowhere with Griffin, its not as if you would be starting from scratch,you would be taking almost all of the membership activist that voted for you and more to come later when Griffin is found out for what he is, hundreds more nationalist who have either been expelled or have left the party are just waiting to ralley to the banner.

pam says: Andrew please, please,give us a chance we need a new party supported by those that supported you.

TheBNPrenaissance says: This was a golden opportunity for the party to go forward with a professional and articulate chairman who would have done more than just smirk and squirm on a platform like Question Time. I really have to consider my support for the BNP while the current chairman is in place.

Graham Wakefield says: Well then that is the end of the BNP.

The split in the party is deep and public, and I’ll be surprised if it survives this tense public display.


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